Another prominent House Republican may be about to join the race to succeed Tom DeLay, who stepped down permanently as House Majority Leader over the weekend. Bill Thomas, the brainy and often bombastic chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, is contemplating running in the Feb. 2 election, which will be decided by a secret vote of the 231 House Republicans.
Mr. Thomas views the current frontrunners, Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt and Education Committee Chairman John Boehner, as too closely tied to the status quo. If he ran, according to former aides, he would likely garner enough support to ensure that no candidate wins the needed 50%-plus-one of the votes, thus forcing a runoff between the top two candidates.
First elected in 1978, Mr. Thomas doesn’t strike one as a fresh face, but his allies tell me he has given much thought to an agenda that would revitalize the fractious GOP caucus. Its centerpiece would be tax cuts and tax reform. Mr. Thomas recognizes that the one thing that keeps many voters voting Republican is hope for control of spending, starting particularly with restraints on pork-barrel special interest legislation.
“There is a niche between Blunt and Boehner waiting to be filled by a candidate,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tells me. “I’m not sure Thomas fits that exactly, but someone who can plausibly argue that I’m experienced enough to have stature but unconventional enough to think in new directions would have a chance.”